The following is an excerpt.

Every time a cardiac valve closes, the heart wall vibrates from the impact. Erik Løhre Grimsmo knows. He studied the phenomenon for his master’s degree. Now he’s into steel. Much of the theory is the same.

Background theory aside, Erik Løhre Grimsmo's new world of nuts and bolts is oceans away from the waves in heart walls. Photo: Albert H. Collett.
Background theory aside, Erik Løhre Grimsmo’s new world of nuts and bolts is oceans away from the waves in heart walls. Photo: Albert H. Collett.

More heart details: every time the aortic valve closes, a small wave is generated. The wave travels along the heart wall. The speed of the wave is governed by the stiffness of the heart. This, in turn, says something about the health condition of the heart. For his master’s degree, Erik Løhre Grimsmo used numerical simulations to investigate how the wave propagation was affected by the material properties such as the stiffness. The aim was to use the findings as a diagnosis tool.


All about mechanics

For his PhD thesis, he has switched material. The topic is how steel joints, nuts, bolts and welds behave under impact loading.

“Much of the background theory is the same as in the case of the heart. It’s all about mechanics,” he insists.

That might well be. Nevertheless, there is a slight difference between a cardiac valve inducing a wave in the heart wall and a steel container falling down onto the deck of an oil rig. This exact difference is one of the challenges of his PhD work. Full scale tests at this level are demanding when it comes to performing them in a controlled manner, measuring the rapid deformation and extreme forces acting on the test specimens and comparing static and dynamic responses. Not only that: the tests carried out, he has to simulate afterwards.


Under strong influence

A glance at Erik Løhre Grimsmo’s family background can explain why choosing a PhD education was innate. His mother is a psychologist and Assistant Professor at NTNU; his father a physician and Professor at St. Olav’s Hospital, both in Trondheim.

Then you have his brothers, both of them with PhDs from NTNU. One is a data expert working for Google in Zurich; the other a quantum physics researcher at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada.


Hard choice

Still, while the background indicates a strong inclination towards an academic career, Erik Løhre Grimsmo wasn’t so sure:

“Before finishing my master’s degree, I got a job offer from Statoil in Oslo. Passing all the tests from Statoil was an elaborate process in itself. There were a whole series of them, ranging from IQ to English to group cooperation to presentations to multitasking. In the latter, we had to weigh speed against accuracy, handling the challenges of a virtual email inbox bursting with all kinds of different challenges.

When I finally passed and was offered the job, I was seriously tempted. My girlfriend studied medicine in Oslo and had two years to go. We had long discussions.”

“And now?”

“I am very happy about my choice. Here I have a lot of freedom. I can continue educating myself and dig into the details.

The deal with my now wife is that when I have finished my PhD, we will most likely return to the Oslo region, where she is from.”


Not so special

PhD candidates are a special breed. Or are they? Erik Løhre Grimsmo begs to differ:

“I’ve heard many times that you need to have a special interest in your topic to become a good candidate. I tend to think that if you work intensely with something, you get interested. What you experience as you go along is that you become deeply absorbed in whatever it is you are doing. A little self-discipline is never amiss, but there is no need for extreme qualities. Independence is good, as is the ability to listen to others and receive advice.”


From nervous to happy

In his first years as a student, Erik Løhre Grimsmo felt great unease about giving presentations:

“I was so nervous I trembled,” he confesses. Then he took a course. He learned how to handle the stress, first in small groups, then gradually in larger ones. As a scientific assistant he initially had to give lectures to 60 or 70 students.

“Now I have audiences of 300 students or more and feel very comfortable about it. It’s been a really positive leap. Even better, I now enjoy teaching, so I wouldn’t mind if my future job involves some teaching.”